By Jonny Walfisz
After all the fighting dies down, Ukrainians will have to deal with untold numbers of deadly mines. United24’s latest ambassador Misha Collins has an initiative to tackle the problem.
‘Supernatural’ star Misha Collins is the latest new ambassador for the charity platform set up to aid Ukraine against Russia’s invasion.
The American actor is best known as a season regular Castiel on the hit series, as well as for his latest role as Harvey Dent in ‘Gotham Knights’. This week, he travelled to Kyiv to meet President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to launch a new initiative with United24.
The government-run charity platform was created by Zelenskyy’s office to guarantee donated funds from outside Ukraine directly benefit the country in its ongoing fight against Russia.
“In the very first few months of the war, the international community was outraged and rallied to the cause, and wanted to contribute significant amounts of money,” Collins explains to Euronews, adding, “Of the billions of dollars that were raised only a fraction of a percentile was directed to Ukrainian non-profits or organisations on the ground that were able to funnel that money to Ukrainians in need”.
Naturally, it was important that all this charitable goodwill actually made it to those in need and to the causes it was intended for. Zelenskyy oversaw United24’s creation to solve the problem. Now, through the singular charitable foundation, Ukraine can simply channel all the money donated directly to causes.
United24 has its own independent funding operation that keeps the organisation afloat, while the organisation itself can then run initiative drives to help people on the ground.
The specific appeal that Collins came to Ukraine to launch is a demining operation. “Ukraine has the largest number of landmines in the world. The demining operation is going to have to demine an area the size of the United Kingdom”, he says.
“It is incredibly daunting, it’s incredibly expensive. But there’s no cheap and easy way to do it because if you do it wrong, lives and limbs can be lost,” Collins explains.
He knows the truth of that statement first-hand; after travelling to Kyiv to announce his ambassadorship, he spent a day touring a conflict zone and visiting a hospital with soldiers who have dealt with landmines.
Demining machinery isn’t built in Ukraine, so Collins is hoping he and the team can raise enough funds to purchase the expensive tools needed to clear Ukrainian territory from Russian
mines. As Ukrainian forces continue to push back Russian advances, the sheer scale of Russia’s mining operation is becoming even more apparent.
“Russians have left mines in homes, their mines have been found in refrigerators, they’ve been found in children’s toy pianos in people’s homes, mines have been left in automobiles that were parked in people’s driveways,” Collins explains.
While much of the news is taken up with stories of Ukraine’s requests for fighter jets from the West, demining operations are essential for allowing Ukrainians to return to normality in areas where the fighting has already died down. It’s a crucial part of ensuring Ukrainians can live meaningful lives without the threat of death post-conflict.
Collins, in fact, can trace his parental lineage back to Ukrainian Jews from Kyiv and also studied Ukrainian and Soviet politics at university – but he insists he would take on the same role regardless of any ties, as the cause is so close to his heart.
Joining him by his side on the tour is Giles Duley, a British war photographer who lost his legs and an arm after stepping on a mine in Afghanistan.
“Giles is one of the most amazing humans I’ve ever met,” Collins says, adding, “It took him a couple of years to recover. But now he still travels and works as a war photographer 300 days out of the year”.
Together, Collins and Duley have previously worked on a demining project in Laos which is still dealing with huge numbers of active mines that US forces placed in the country back in the 1970s.
“These mines were put in the ground, many of them before I was born, and kids in Laos are still losing limbs and being killed all the time. That’s how long these mines can last”, Collins says.
“Now, the Russians are using plastic landmines which can last even longer. If these landmines don’t get removed, the great grandchildren of the soldiers that are fighting now might one day pick up a landmine and lose an arm.”
In setting up the campaign, Collins joins other ambassadors like fellow actors Mark Hamill and Barbara Streisand as well as other figures including astronauts, entrepreneurs and historians. Having public figureheads run these campaigns is important, Collins explains – while the money raised is obvioulsly beneficial, keeping the war present in people’s minds will make the difference in the long run.
“If the world gets tired of hearing about this conflict, if we start tuning it out and we stop supporting Ukraine, and if our respective governments stop sending support, then Ukraine will be lost”, he says.